Author : Bob Newbell

The low rumbling sound in my starship goes up in both pitch and volume. Even through the Koliada’s graviton fields and inertia attenuators, I can feel the vessel shuddering.

“Computer, report!”

“We have dropped out of FTL,” says my ship. “We are caught in a massive gravitational field.”

“Show me.”

A sphere appears in the holodisplay. The Koliada’s computer annotates the image. The object has as much mass as the Earth but is small enough that I could, in principle, hold it in one hand.

“What is that?” I ask the computer. “It doesn’t have an event horizon or a singularity so it doesn’t appear to be a black hole, but it’s too small and dense to be a neutron star.”

“The object appears to be a preon star.”

“A what?”

“A theoretical astronomical object composed of sub-quark matter.”

“Quarks are fundamental particles,” I protest. “There’s no such thing as sub-quark matter.”

“The evidence is conclusive,” my ship counters. “This discovery represents the first revision to the Standard Model of Particle Physics in over one thousand years assuming we survive to report our findings.”

The Koliada’s shuddering intensifies.

“Speaking of survival,” I reply, “how about getting us out of here?”

“I have been attempting to do so since we became caught in the preon star’s gravity well. I have made multiple attempts to move us away from the star, all unsuccessful.”

“That’s impossible. We can go faster than light. How can we not break free from any naturally-occurring gravitational field?”

“My FTL drive,” the ship responds, “has to be able to convert every particle of and within me into tachyons in less than Planck time or ten to the negative forty third power of one second. The surface gravity of the preon star is approximately three times ten to the sixteenth power g’s. I can’t perform a stable FTL transition fast enough inside this gravity well.”

I sigh. “Alright. Drive us toward the star and we’ll slingshot around it.”

“Impossible. The star’s gravity field is non-homogeneous like a black hole’s. If we attempt a gravity-assist maneuver as you propose, tidal forces will destroy us.”

“Okay,” I say with exasperation, “suggest something.”

“I advise you to go to the medical bay and let me perform a quantum tomogram of your brain. While I can’t convert us to tachyonic matter, I can send a tachyon wave transmission back to the Solar Assembly. I can upload my core memory and a scan of your brain to the Assembly conclave at Barnard’s Star. The conclave will have a copy of your DNA on file and will have no trouble fabricating a new body for you and then performing a neural rectification on it. My consciousness can be transferred to another ship.”

I think about how much all that will cost and wonder if being torn to shreds by tidal forces isn’t the worst thing that could happen. I finally get up and start walking to the medical bay.

I awaken twenty subjective minutes later in a hospital station in the Barnard system. In short order, three irate Assembly bureaucrats enter my room and tell me a certain A.I. is not only declining to disclose location and sensor data about an alleged preon star but is threatening to delete the corresponding files unless I tell it otherwise.

I smile at the three stern government functionaries. “Settle my medical bill and give me and my A.I. the fastest starship you have and I’ll see what I can do.”

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